Rachael Stokes

Earlsfield Woman

Women in Politics Revisited: follow up letter to the Leader of Wandsworth Council

Further to my letter to Cllr Govindia, Leader of Wandsworth Council, in May of this year (to which I have not received a direct response) I have now sent a follow up letter setting out the duties of the Council under the Equality Act 2010 and how this applies to council members who are pregnant or who have had a baby. I hope he will support me in the development of a relevant policy. I will share a response as and when I receive one.

15 October 2015

Dear Cllr Govindia,

I refer to my letter to you dated 6 May 2015, concerning the treatment of women in public office, specifically mothers and pregnant women, and my proposal that Wandsworth Council adopt a policy on these issues. I have not received a direct response to my letter. A copy is included below for reference.

Previously, when requesting a copy of the Council’s maternity policy for Members in April 2015, I received a helpful email response from Head of Executive and Committee Services Frankie Belloli in which I was informed that there was no such policy. Belloli informed me that during my time with my new baby I would receive my allowance as usual, plus the potential for a separate childcare allowance, and that I was under a statutory duty to attend at least one Council meeting every six months.

I have copied Frankie Belloli to this letter, as the issues I raise below are also for his consideration, and I feel it would help to keep him involved in our discussions. I have also copied Paul Martin as Director of Administration.

Public sector equality duty

At section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 (“the Act”), as I am sure you are aware, there is a strict duty upon public authorities (in respect of which definition London Borough Councils are included) to have due regard during the exercise of their functions to the need to:-

  • eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct that is prohibited by the Act;
  • advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it;
  • foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it.

(Underlined sections are my emphasis). “Protected characteristics” include being pregnant, and planning to take/taking maternity leave.

In addition to this duty, Wandsworth Council must (under s149(3)):-

Having due regard to the need to advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it involves having due regard, in particular, to the need to— 

  • remove or minimise disadvantages suffered by persons who share a relevant protected characteristic that are connected to that characteristic;
  • take steps to meet the needs of persons who share a relevant protected characteristic that are different from the needs of persons who do not share it;
  • encourage persons who share a relevant protected characteristic to participate in public life or in any other activity in which participation by such persons is disproportionately low.

The Act explicitly applies to Council Members, (see section 58):-

  • A local authority must not discriminate against a member of the authority in relation to the member’s carrying out of official business—
  • in the way the authority affords the member access, or by not affording the member access, to opportunities for training or for receiving any other facility;
  • by subjecting the member to any other detriment.
  • A local authority must not, in relation to a member’s carrying out of official business, harass the member.

Policy needed

In order for Wandsworth Council to observe its duties under the Equality Act 2010, and in the interests of an inclusive, effective and harmonious chamber, a Parental Rights Policy for Members would be very helpful. Given our different status to employees of the Council, this should be a separate document to those prepared for employees, to avoid confusion. I would ask you to also consider the following points:-

  • In light of the extent of the equalities legislation, and our commitment to diversity and equal opportunities at Wandsworth Council, it would seem appropriate to me that we aim for a modern, inclusive policy covering mothers, fathers, same-sex couples, adoptive parents, and parents using surrogates.
  • Members becoming parents need to understand what time away from their duties they may take (to avoid stress, harassment, confusion, and communication breakdown).
  • Mothers who have given birth and who are also Members need to understand that their health and safety is of paramount importance to the Council, and that European standards on post-birth absence, rest, recovery and bonding time will be respected; i.e. a period of maternity leave from Council duties will be explicitly permitted.
  • Members need to know how baby-friendly the Council chambers are, whether they are breastfeeding-friendly in accordance with the law on breastfeeding in public places, whether young babies can be brought into the chamber, and so on.

If you would like, I am willing to take the lead in drafting a policy for your and Frankie’s review, so we can discuss implementation in due course, ideally dovetailing the policy with the existing equal opportunities publications issued by the Council.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Yours sincerely

Rachael Stokes

Cllr Earlsfield Ward

cc: Frankie Belloli, Paul Martin

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This entry was posted on October 19, 2015 by .

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